I went along to 100% Open's networking event in London. There were lots of short talks and plenty of animated conversations after the formal bit.
The stand out moment for me was when Roland Harwood did an experiment. He asked people at random to say what connections they would find most useful to make. Not at the event itself, but wherever in the world, in the coming days. Then we'd see if anyone else in the room could help with that specific request.
Did it work? Yes, remarkably for the most part. Roland gives me a more detailed answer, with intelligent caveats based on more outings, in his post on two degrees of separation. Well worth a read.
Funnily enough, he mentions the birthday paradox which I happened to discuss over the drinks with someone afterwards.
A while ago, Roland introduced me to the notion of "engineering serendipity", set up as a wry paradox. It captures both our desire for that kind of connection and our equally human wish to organise it and call it religion. But if we take the idea lightly, with an eye on our own pomposity, it's worth thinking about.
And watching the process unfold, it reminded me of the potential connections in a roomful of people. And reminded me how linear, top down meeting formats have so little capacity for tapping into it. The convention is to have an overstructured formal bit, and then a completely unstructured informal bit. The host says "network" and assumes that food and alcohol will do the job. Little bits of business like Roland's experiment are worth pursuing further I reckon.